In Defense of Empathy

Why Study History CoverIn a recent post at The Anxious Bench, Elesha Coffman of Baylor University asks, “Why was [Robert] Orsi, whose scholarly home is the American Academy of Religion, giving a plenary at the C[onference on] F[aith and H[istory]?”

As the person who invited Orsi to deliver a plenary at the CFH, I am the one responsible for his appearance. Due to other CFH commitments, I only heard half of Orsi’s address on “disgust,” but what I heard was a real barn-burner.   You can get a sense of what he said in Coffman’s post.

I had originally asked Orsi to talk about his most recent book History and Presence.   I thought his reflections on “real presence” in the American Catholic experience would resonate with CFH members.  I was just as surprised as anyone by the talk, although I also realize that this often happens in academia.  Nevertheless, my role as program chair is to invite plenary speakers who will provoke conversation and discussion.  Mission accomplished!  🙂

Coffman writes:

For many of us who attended the recent meeting of the Conference on Faith and History, the heaviest moments in a consistently weighty gathering came during Bob Orsi’s concluding plenary, “The Study of Religion on the Other Side of Disgust.” The address was rooted in his current research on clergy sex abuse in the Roman Catholic Church, and he spent at least 20 minutes recounting in excruciating detail the exploits of Father Paul Shanley, a predator whose superiors allowed him to abuse young people with impunity for decades. Not just allowed—empowered and paid by the church to run what one lawyer called a “pedophile paradise.” Why was Orsi, whose scholarly home is the American Academy of Religion, giving a plenary at CFH? Why was he telling us this appalling narrative? And what were we supposed to do with it?

I can only speak of my own reaction. For me, this was a painful but necessary step in moving away from my own scholarly formation toward something that feels more true in our historical moment.

I was trained to see the historian’s foremost ethical task as the cultivation of empathy. For years, I talked about this virtue on the first day of class. We historians, I used to say, “resurrect the dead and let them speak.” We listen to voices from the past humbly. We refrain from pronouncing anachronistic sentences on our fellow human beings who could not know what was coming next, and who did not have the benefit of whatever enlightenment we have gleaned since their passing. My white, male, Southern doctoral adviser used to say, “If I had been born in the early 19th century, I would have been a racist slaveholder, too.” Generations hence, our descendants will marvel at our blindness. Judge not, lest ye be judged.

Read the rest here.

Actually, Coffman was not the only one who criticized the idea of “empathy” in Grand Rapids last week.  Margaret Bendroth, the conference’s first plenary speaker, also criticized the pursuit of empathy in historical inquiry.

Count me as one who is not convinced by this call to move away from or beyond empathy in the practice of history.  Don’t get me wrong, I hope the Catholic sex abuse scandal will trigger “disgust” in all of my students, but a case like this is not the best test case for whether or not empathy is still useful in historical inquiry.  (Who wouldn’t be disgusted by sexual abuse of children?).

There might be subjects we discuss in history class that might trigger disgust in only some of my students or only a few of them.  If we are studying the history of the culture wars, for example, some students might be disgusted that abortion ends the life of babies in the womb.  Others may be disgusted by the fact that pro-lifers do not respect the rights of women to control their own bodies.  When we let something like “disgust” drive our study of history, the history classroom turns into an ethics or moral philosophy classroom.  At my institution, students take a course in ethics with another professor who is trained in the field.  My responsibility is to teach them how to think historically–to walk in others shoes and try to understand the “foreign country” that is the past.  Of course ethicists and moral philosophers can talk about the past as well, but they don’t talk about the past in the same way historians do.  (I should also add that my views here were born out of more than a decade–and eight years as a department chair–defending the place of history in the college curriculum and the larger society.  I have tried to argue that history as a discipline offers a way of thinking about the world that other disciplines do not).

The best historical works, and the best historical classes, are those that tell the story of the past in all its fullness–good and bad–and let the readers/students develop their ethical capacities through their engagement with it. See my colleague Jim LaGrand’s excellent essay, “The Problems of Preaching Through History.”

Of course some folks will now say something like, “Hey Fea, you just wrote a book criticizing Donald Trump!  How is that not preaching or moral criticism?”  It’s a fair question and it is one I have been wrestling with ever since I agreed to write Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump.  I think Believe Me draws heavily upon my work as a historian, but I am not sure I would call it a work of history.  It is instead a work of social criticism targeted at my fellow white evangelicals.  This, I should add, is the primary reason I decided to publish it with Eerdmans, a Christian publisher with connections to the evangelical world.  Wherever I go on my book tour I talk about this.  There are times in Believe Me when I write as a historian and there are times when I do not.

I should also add that I do not bring my approach and tone in Believe Me to the history classroom.  My direct criticism of white evangelicalism and Donald Trump have no place there.  In the classroom we are in the business of understanding and empathy.  If we want to move past empathy and understanding in our classroom, as Coffman suggests we do, them we are doing something other than history.

Of course I have been arguing for this for a long time and still stand by my central thesis in Why Study History: Reflecting on the Importance of the Past.  In this polarized society we need more empathy for people with whom we disagree.  I still think history is the best way of cultivating this virtue.

The *Believe Me* Book Tour Comes to Dallas


Last Thursday night the Believe Me book tour visited Southern Methodist University in Dallas.  The Center for Presidential History served as host.  Thanks to Brian Franklin, Assistant Director of the Center, and Jeff Engel, Director, for the invitation.  And thanks to Ronna Spitz for coordinating all the details.  They did a great job promoting the event in the greater Dallas area and as a result more than 200 people showed-up!  The crowd was largely sympathetic, but there were clearly some Trump supporters in the room who did not agree with everything I said in the lecture.  And no, Robert Jeffress did not come to the lecture (I have now been asked that a couple of times), but the first question from the audience was from a man who occasionally attends Jeffress’s church (First Baptist–Dallas) and was trying to figure out how the Dallas megachurch pastor reconciled his biblical sermons with his Fox News pundit.


The SMU student newspaper covered the event here.


On Wednesday, October 17 I  will be at John Brown University in Siloam Springs, Arkansas.   Stay tuned.

The *Believe Me* Book Tour is Headed to the Senate Building


On Wednesday morning, October 10, I will be on Capitol Hill (Dirksen Senate building) to speak to about 100 evangelical leaders gathered for the National Association of Evangelicals’ annual “Washington Briefing.”

The NAE leadership has asked me to talk about Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump.  The event is not open to the public, but I can announce that I will be sharing the day with Rep. Carlos Curbelo, Mark Green, Nathan Gonzalez, Shirley Hoogstra, Ali Noorani, Sen. James Lankford, Brian Walsh, Barbara Williams-Skinner, Sen. Marco Rubio, Stephanie Summers, and Os Guinness.

Stay tuned.

The *Believe Me* Book Tour Rolls Through Elkhart, Indiana and Holland, Michigan

Hope College

During the Q&A session at Taylor University on Tuesday night someone asked me if my work at a college with Anabaptist roots (Messiah College) influenced what I wrote in Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald TrumpIt was a great question–one that I have thought a lot about.  Historian Jared Burkholder made the same observation a few months ago.

This question was on my mind again on Wednesday afternoon when I spoke to a group of faculty, students, and staff at Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary (AMBS) in Elkhart, Indiana.  During the conversation following my talk, I realized that a lot of my thinking about religion, politics, justice, and public life is very compatible with the views of my Mennonite brothers and sisters, especially when it comes to the Christian nationalism that drives so many white evangelicals.  I felt at home at AMBS.  At the same time, I also realized that Anabaptism and Evangelicalism are quite different, especially when it comes to the theology of the atonement and the role that doctrine plays in Christian identity.  After talking to folks at AMBS, I realized that I need to go back and re-read Burkholder and David Cramer’s book The Activist Impulse: Essays on the Intersection of Evangelicalism and Anabaptists.

Fea at AMBS

Thanks to Janna Hunter-Bowman for the invitation and thanks to everyone who came out for the talk, including David Cramer and AMBS president Sara Wenger Shenk.

After the AMBS visit I drove up to Holland, Michigan for an evening talk at Hope College in Holland, Michigan.  We had a great turnout and one of the more engaging Q&A sessions of the tour.  Thanks to Jeanne Pettit of the Hope history department for the invitation.  It was also great to see my old friend and Hope historian Fred Johnson and meet so many Hope professors, including Lynn Japinga, Aaron Franzen, Wayne Tan, Mark Baer (who is leading a church reading group on Believe Me), Janis Gibbs, Steven Bouma-Prediger, David Ryden, and Virginia Beard.

I tweeted about my favorite moment of the night:

On to Calvin College for the meeting of the Conference on Faith and History. See you there.

The *Believe Me* Book Tour Rolls Through Grand Rapids, Michigan and Upland, Indiana

Fea at Cornerstone

Good crowd for a noontime talk at Cornerstone University

Yesterday started at Anna’s House in Grand Rapids where I had breakfast with my favorite Calvin College student. 🙂

I then headed over to Cornerstone University for my first book talk of the day.  A Trump supporter in the audience accused me of hubris, implied that I supported the murder of babies, and informed me that my reference to my evangelical background was an attempt to engage in “identity politics,” but after this opening “question,” things settled down and we had a fruitful conversation about Trump and evangelicals.  Thanks to everyone who took some time out of their day to come to a noontime lecture and special thanks to history professor Martin Spence for the invitation!

Some pics:

Spence and Fea

With Martin Spence and his poster advertising my visit.

I spent the afternoon on Interstate 69 traveling to an evening lecture at Taylor University.  (Thank goodness for Sirius/XM radio I was entertained by Bruce Springsteen CNN, NPR, “the 70s on 7” and Chris “Mad Dog” Russo).

A great crowd of students and faculty showed-up for the lecture.  After the talk I spent an hour or two in some informal conversation with about 20 Taylor honors students.  I am always impressed by the thoughtfulness of the young evangelicals I meet at events like this.  We spent time wrestling with the definition of “evangelical” (most of them do not describe themselves as “evangelicals,” preferring to use the word “Christian” instead), talked about the place of the humanities at a Christian college, and reflected on the best ways for Christians to engage with politics (I recommended works by James Davison Hunter and Glenn Tinder).


Thanks to Steve Austin and Jeff Cramer for the invitation.

That’s all for now.  Today I will be at Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary in Elkhart, Indiana at noon and Hope College this evening.  Then it is back to Calvin College for the biennial meeting of the Conference on Faith and History.  Stay tuned.

The *Believe Me* Book Tour Rolls Through the Midwest This Week

Believe Me 3d

October 2, 2018
Cornerstone University,
Grand Rapids, MI  11:30-1:00pm
Lecture on Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump

October 2, 2018
Taylor University, Upland, IN 7:30pm
Lecture on Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump

October 3, 2018
Hope College, Holland, MI7:00pm
Lecture on Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump

October 3, 2018
Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary, Elkhart, IN, 12:00pm
Discussion of Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump

October 4-6, 2018 (This event is not part of the Believe Me tour).
Biennial Meeting of the Conference on Faith and History, Grand Rapids, MI
Program Chair: “History and the Search for Meaning: The CFH at 50”

Has Will Willimon Been Reading *Believe Me*?

Believe Me 3dPerhaps.

Willimon is Professor of the Practice of Ministry at Duke Divinity School.  I am glad to see that he has identified something akin to the “court evangelicals.”  Here is a taste of his recent blog post:

There’s a history of preachers attempting to ingratiate themselves with the powerful; some clergy are always willing to sacrifice the gospel in exchange for proximity to the crown. Louis XIV had his pet court preachers like Bossuet and Massillon who came to Versailles and, in elegant sermons, told the Sun King what he wanted to hear. Encountering mild resistance from some German Protestant preachers, Hitler elevated a prominent pastor, Ludwig Müller, to the role of Reich bishop in his new German Church and the majority of the churches stepped into line behind the Nazis. I suppose we preachers ought to be flattered that even powerful tyrants, who never care much for Jesus Christ, still require the blessing of willing preachers.

And in every age, there are willing preachers.

Read the entire post here.

The *Believe Me* Book Tour is Coming to Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary in Elkhart, Indiana


I will be talking about Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump at Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary (AMBS) in Elkhart on October 3, 2018.  The event is part of the AMBS Noon Lunch Forum and will take place in the Lambright Dining Hall at noon.

The event is open to the public, but the organizers ask that you RSVP if you wish to enjoy the meal ($6.50) that will be served during the talk.  If you are coming for lunch please send an e-mail by Monday to lkvandrick(at)ambs(dot)edu

Liberty University Students Came to the U.S. Senate on Thursday to Support Kavanaugh

Liberty U Kavanaugh

Liberty University staged a rally for Kavanaugh (Huffington Post photo)

And their president, court evangelical Jerry Falwell Jr., was with them.

The Lynchburg News & Advance reports:

About 300 Liberty University students traveled to Washington, D.C. Thursday to support Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, who is under fire with two accusers alleging sexual assault and another claiming to have witnessed such behavior.

While the marathon Senate Judiciary Committee hearing unfolded on Capitol Hill, Liberty students attending a Concerned Women for America and Women for Kavanaugh rally. They also visited the office of Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) to show their support for the Judiciary Committee chairman.

“We wanted [Kavanaugh’s] voice to be heard … and to support him and his family,” said Victoria Belk, an LU student and president of LU’s Young Women for America, a college chapter of CWA. “True equality is hearing from both sides; hearing him out was important to us.”

Read the rest here.  The Huffington Post has posted a video of the rally here.

Over at Religion News Service, Jason Lupfer argues that conservative evangelical support for Kavanaugh will cost them.  Here is a taste of his piece:

Politically,  white conservative Christians have been invaluable to the country club wing of the Republican Party, which put their zeal to work to end an era of social progress on civil rights, economic equality and fiscal health. The old guard used its newfound clout to enact deficit-financed tax cuts, decimate the labor movement and shift an ever higher percentage of the national income to those at the very top.

Meanwhile, their own principles suffered.

Few white evangelicals or conservative Catholics were put off by the party’s embrace of leaders who demonized Islam, disparaged undocumented immigrants and rolled back voting rights. They helped ensure that the Republicans ended up abandoning morality altogether and nominating for president a vulgar, spiteful man who boasted of his own sexual assaults.

Now it seems that president has nominated a judge who shares the political values of conservative evangelicals but may have violated many of their morals. Drunken parties and sexual assault are the kinds of things that Liberty University — and Concerned Women for America — have abhorred in the past.

But they no longer seem to give these conservative evangelicals pause.

So often when religion and politics mix, religion is sullied. As the evangelicals have risen in prominence, we have heard less and less about the Old, Old Story, and wondered if they even believed it at all.

The country has suffered under this partnership as well.

Read the entire piece here.  Much of what Lupfer writes here meshes well with my own work in Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump.

Believe Me 3d

The *Believe Me* Book Tour Comes to Valparaiso University

The Believe Me book tour rolled through my old stomping grounds on Tuesday night.  I taught at Valparaiso University from 2000-2002 as a Lilly Fellow in the Humanities and the Arts.  Here is the first house we lived in:

Valpo House

268 McIntyre Court, Valparaiso, Indiana

Then we had a sewer back-up in Spring 2001 and moved a few doors down to this house:

Valpo House 2

260 McIntyre Court, Valparaiso, Indiana

I am thankful to Joe Creech, Program Director of the Lilly Fellows Program, and Joe Goss, Assistant Program Director, for inviting me back to Valpo to speak about the book.  I had dinner with five impressive Lilly Fellows and we had a spirited discussion about public scholarship, evangelicalism, Trump, and church-related colleges and universities.  Thanks to Ashleigh Elser, Daniel Silliman, Jason Gehrke, Christine Hedlin, and Cassandra Painter for the conversation.  If you have a job opening at your college or university you need to give these young scholars a serious look.

Rather than a traditional book talk, Daniel Silliman, a historian of American religion, interviewed me.  Jared Burkholder, a historian at Grace College in Winona Lake, Indiana, was present and blogged about the event here.

Silliman and Fea

And thanks to Ashleigh Elser for the kind introduction.

Earlier in the day, I spent an hour or so in the Linwood House, the former Valparaiso University president’s home and the building that houses the Lilly Fellows Program. A lot has changed in the house, but the living room, the place where the Lilly Fellows and their mentors gather together each week to talk about faith, higher education, and academic vocation, looks relatively the same as it did eighteen years ago:


The Linwood House

I also found a bookshelf full of books written by former Lilly Fellows.  If you look closely at the pics, you will see books by historians Mary Beth Connolly, Kathy Sprows Cummings, Lisa Deam, Darren Dochuk, Robert Elder, Andrew Finstuen, Matthew Hedstrom, Paul Harvey, Mary Henold, Thomas Albert (Tal) Howard, Louis Nelson, James Kennedy, Matthew Lundin, John McGreevy, Peter Mercer-Taylor, James Skillen, and Stephanie Yuhl.

Valpo Shelf 9

Valpo Book 4

Valpo Book 5

Valpo 3

Valpo Shelf 8

Valpo 7

Valpo Book 6

It was great to see so many old friends and make some new friends in Valpo this week!

John Wilson is Still Not Convinced by the Fear Thesis

Fear Nussbaum

Some of you may recall John Wilson’s review of Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump in the Hedgehog Review.  I wrote about it here.  Wilson does not seem to think that “fear” explains the evangelical support for Donald Trump.  He makes a similar critique of fear in his recent review of Martha Nussbaum’s latest, The Monarchy of Fear: A Philosopher Looks At Our Political Crisis.  Here is a taste of his review of Nussbaum in The Weekly Standard:

Are we living in an “Age of Fear”? Are Americans today more fearful than they were in the 1960s, say? The 1950s? The 1940s? The 1930s? How would we know? (By the way, how long is an “age” nowadays? Ten years? Five years? Two years? Ages aren’t what they used to be.)

One thing we do know for certain: A lot of people are talking about fear. In July in these pages, I reviewed Matthew Kaemingk’s important book Christian Hospitality and Muslim Immigration in an Age of Fear. Around the same time, Eerdmans published Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump, in which the excellent historian John Fea offered a “short history of evangelical fear” as an explanation for the mess we find ourselves in. In July, Vox critic Alissa Wilkinson (who is on my always-must-read list) posted a piece on the fictional Gileads of Margaret Atwood and Marilynne Robinson. “You’d have to be extraordinarily blind,” Wilkinson wrote, “to not know that fear is a dominant, if not the dominant, feeling in 2018.” (Oh, no. On top of all my other problems, I’m extraordinarily blind!) And then there’s Bob Woodward’s Fear: Trump in the White House.

Many instances of what we might call the discourse of fear depend on a rhetorical sleight of hand: To describe those you are arguing against as being driven by fear is thought to be effective, even as you are appealing to fear of the outcome should these fearful types get what they want. In his recent remarks on the Trump administration, a critique in many respects persuasive, former president Barack Obama denounced “the politics of fear,” as he had while he himself occupied the White House. Never mind that President Trump’s critics have themselves routinely waxed apocalyptic. Lisa Sharon Harper, a widely respected African-American evangelical speaker, writer, and organizer, tells us that “majority conservative rulings have already whittled back civil rights protections, leaving this generation’s children as vulnerable to a new Jim Crow as my great-grandparents, who fled for their lives from the terror of the Jim Crow South,” a warning clearly intended to inspire fear and dread.

Does such argumentation by fear prove that fear really is pervasive, bone-deep, or does it rather suggest the perceived advantage of employing a particular rhetorical strategy?

Read the entire piece here.

The *Believe Me* Book Tour Meets “Things Not Seen” Radio at the University of Chicago

Last night the Believe Me book tour made a stop at the Seminary Co-op Bookstore on the campus of the University of Chicago.  On most stops on the tour I give a 20-minute book talk followed by a Q&A session, but this time around we teamed-up with David Dault of the “Things Not Seen” radio program.   It was great to see old friends and make some new ones at the event.  Thanks to David and the staff of the Seminary Co-op for hosting!

Here are some pics:

Seminary Coop 1

Photo by Matt Lakemacher

Seminary Coop 2

Photo by Matt Lakemacher

Seminary Coop 3

Lynn Pattison and Matt Lakemacher, alumni of the Gilder-Lehrman “Princeton Seminar” on Colonial America were in attendance last night.  They teach social studies in Gurnee, IL

At Valparaiso University tonight!

Is Evangelical Support for Trump Eroding?

Trump and Bible

Diane Ravitch shares a post from Charles Foster Johnson, a progressive pastor in Texas.  Johnson writes:

The evangelical support for President Trump is alarming for Christian ministers like me, who do not share their views and values. But, it is my sense, possibly born of my inveterate optimism, that the Evangelical coalition supporting Trump is breaking down. 

It’s an arcane nuance, but Trump only has the continued support of a certain subset of evangelicals, those of a triumphalist mentality, who feel that it is God’s will that their particular brand of Christianity has a divine right to succeed. These people have been at war with the culture for decades. They have advanced their apocalyptic brand through the peculiar grievance that the world is awful, that America is lost, and that it all should be blown up. Thus, their disdain for our American institutions, including public education.

They are found largely in middle class, suburban, megachurch demographic and religious categories. There is a detached gnosticism that marks their theology. The emphasis is not on love of neighbor, but rather one’s own prosperity and alleviation of anxiety. It bears little resemblance to the faith outlined in the Hebrew Scriptures and the New Testament. Harold Bloom, the Yale literary critic, nailed this curious gnosticism twenty years or so ago in a book called “The American Religion.” 

But, here is some good news:  real, organic, embodied faith communities across the theological spectrum – conservative, moderate, liberal– are not falling for Trump’s toxic mythology. These are smaller, more connected congregations in rural communities, small towns, and urban neighborhoods that are highly contextualized. They are not the disembodied entertainment circuses of the megachurches. We see these congregations thoroughly involved in their neighborhoods, particularly their public schools, and internalizing the pressing human need found in the children. Yes, some of these folks voted for Trump, but they are beginning to rethink the entire program. Providentially, Donald Trump is waking up the church!

This is very optimistic, but I don’t think it is right.  I don’t have any statistical evidence.  My thoughts are based on the stories I heard from the pro-Trumpers I met this summer in eleven different cities during the Believe Me book tour.

Some white evangelicals are die-hard Trump supporters.  These are the people who backed Trump from the moment he announced his candidacy and chose him instead of Christian Right candidates like Ted Cruz or Ben Carson.  They are the evangelicals who go to Trump rallies and have Trump signs on their lawns.

Other white evangelicals who voted for Trump in 2016 are not fans of the president,  but they are willing to overlook his character issues, his racism and xenophobia, and his disrespect for the office because he has appointed conservative judges.  They probably lost a little sleep in Fall 2016 as they contemplated their vote, but in the end they remained faithful to a Christian Right playbook that privileges abortion and the Supreme Court above all other issues.

The first group will vote again for Donald Trump in 2020.  A significant portion of the second group will also vote for Trump in 2020, especially if he continues to appoint conservative justices, defends religious freedom (as understood by evangelicals, which basically means freedom for their views on marriage), and runs against a pro-choice liberal.

I have even heard stories from some sectors that evangelicals who did not vote for Trump in 2016 are considering voting for him in 2020 because he has delivered on so many of his promises and the economy is doing well.

Believe Me 3d

The Court Evangelicals Will be Out in Force this Weekend at the Values Voter Summit

Believe Me 3dThe Values Voter Summit, an annual political gathering of Christian Right activists, will meet this week in Washington D.C.  The speaker lineup is filled with court evangelicals.  Here are the names of the conference speakers that I mentioned in Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump:

Michelle Bachman

Gary Bauer

Ben Carson

Tony Perkins

Mike Pence

Lance Wallnau

Other speakers include Ben Sasse, Mitch McConnell, Mike Pompeo, Oliver North. Matt Bevin, Dean Cain, Everett Piper, Sebastian Gorka, Todd Starnes, Laura Ingraham, Bill Bennett, George Barna.

The event is sponsored by the Family Research Council, the American Family Association (who recently put out an “Action Alert” about me), American Values, Christian Healthcare Ministries, Inspire Investing, and United in Purpose.

Leg 2 of the *Believe Me* Book Tour Starts on Monday

Believe Me 3dI hope to see some of you on the road!

September 24, 2018
University of Chicago Seminary Co-Op Bookstore, Chicago, IL, 6pm
Book Talk: Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump

September 25, 2018
Valparaiso University, Valparaiso, IN 6:30pm
Lecture: “The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump”

October 2, 2018
Cornerstone University, Grand Rapids, MI  11:30-1:00pm
Lecture on Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump

October 2, 2018
Taylor University, Upland, IN 7:30pm
Lecture on Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump

October 3, 2018
Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary, Elkhart, IN, 12:00pm
Discussion of Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump

October 3, 2018
Hope College, Holland, MI7:00pm
Lecture on Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump

October 11, 2018
Southern Methodist University, Dallas, Texas
Public lecture on Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump

October 10, 2018
National Association of Evangelicals Washington Briefing, Washington D.C.
Discussion of Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump (Private event)

October 17-18, 2018
John Brown University, Siloam Springs, Arkansas
Public lecture on Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump

October 28, 2018
Emmanuel United Methodist Church, Laurel, MD
Question and Answer Session on Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump

November 6, 2018
Woodrow Wilson School and Center for Study of Religion, Princeton, NJ
“Crossroads of Religion” Discussion Series on “The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump”

November 13-15, 2018
Annual Meeting of the Evangelical Theological Society, Denver, CO
Session on Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump

And I am happy to announce that there will be a third leg of the tour, beginning in January 2019 and extending through the Spring.  We are currently booking dates.  Stay tuned for more information about visits to Eastern Mennonite University, the University of Southern California, Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, University of Colorado-Colorado Springs, and Greensboro College.

Brazil is Interested in Trump and Evangelicals

Believe Me 3dBelieve Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump has garnered attention around the world.  Since the book appeared in June 2018, I have done interviews with newspapers in Norway, Netherlands, Germany, Turkey, and France.  My latest interview was with Julia Zaremba of Folhapress in San Paolo, Brazil.  This seems fitting, in light of resurgence (both spiritually and politically) of evangelicalism in Brazil.

Here is a taste of her piece (translated through Google translator) “Evangelicals support Trump in expectation of conservative judges“:

Obama’s support for same-sex marriage, a right that was recognized by the Supreme Court in 2015, did not appeal to evangelicals either. “They saw Democrat management as a threat to the country,” says John Fea, a history professor and author of “Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump” (believe me: the evangelical road to Donald Trump).

The dissatisfaction of evangelicals with the direction of American politics is not recent, Fea explains. In 1960, the Supreme Court banned reading the Bible in public schools. In the 1970s, the Roe v. Wade legalized abortion in the country. More than 20 years later, Bill Clinton, a president defending the right to abortion, became embroiled in a case with his intern at the White House.

“Trump is a comfort to evangelicals, who are no longer as anxious as ever,” says Fea.

The difference from the predecessors, he says, is that Trump really “fights for the causes” of the group and is seen as a “strong man.” Among white evangelical voters, more than 80 percent voted for Trump in the 2016 election.

The expert says, however, that support for a man who is “adulterous and who often lies” can harm the image of the Gospel. “By making a deal with Trump, they have turned almost to a lobby group that uses the president to get what they want,” he says. “From the standpoint of the Christian belief system, this is problematic.”

Read the entire piece here.

VOX on Kaepernick, Nike, and an Alabama Pastor with Scissors


Another well-written and researched piece by Tara Isabella Burton.  Here is a taste:

Pastor Mack Morris wanted to take a stand. Preaching in front of his Mobile, Alabama, congregation on Sunday morning, positioned just to the left of an American flag, he declaredthat he was sick and tired of the way clothing brand Nike had, in his view, disrespected America and its people.

“The first pair of jogging shoes I wore were Nike jogging shoes,” he told his congregation, “That was in the early ’80s. I’ve been wearing Nike jogging shoes since 1980. I got news for you. I’ve bought my last pair of Nike shoes.” He produced two branded items — a Nike wristband and a headband. Then he cut them up right there at the pulpit.

His audience’s response? Raucous applause.

Morris’s actions are part of a larger trend among conservatives in recent weeks who have been destroying Nike products to protest its selection of controversial quarterback Colin Kaepernick — who famously knelt during the national anthem to protest police brutality — in its latest ad campaign. For Kaepernick’s critics, including President Donald Trump, his refusal to stand for the national anthem is evidence that he lacks respect for the American flag, and more broadly, for America itself.

Read the entire piece here.  I was happy to help her with the piece:

John Fea, a professor of history at Messiah College in Pennsylvania and author of Believe Me: the Evangelical Road to Donald Trump, told Vox in a telephone interview on Thursday that Morris’s actions represented a combination of two elements. The first, he said, was “conservative evangelicals’ commitment to the idea that America is a Christian nation, and that somehow the American flag not only symbolizes generic nationalism but that the nation was founded by God, that it’s a nation created by God. So [people think], how dare Colin Kaepernick take a knee.”

Secondly, he said, “Christian nationalism has always been connected with whiteness. It has always been about [the idea of] America’s founding by white Christians.”

These ideas, Fea said, have existed throughout American history. But Donald Trump’s campaign and election have them to the fore. Furthermore, he said, we’re seeing an unprecedented relationship between the president and the evangelical religious establishment, in which pastors take “marching orders” from Trump’s own discourse.

“So you now have Baptist pastors in the South in essence taking their cues from the president of the United States … and not from Biblical ideas,” Fea said.

He argued that there was a direct trickle-down effect from Trump’s tweets to church pews. Trump’s relentless focus on Kaepernick made his protest into a national controversy. White evangelicals, in turn, followed Trump’s lead, treating Kaepernick’s protest as a direct affront to the sanctity of an (implicitly Christian) America.

Fea said that the Kaepernick case is specifically about ideology, not theology. After all, he said, the Bible says nothing about flags or protests.